Beeslack Wood is situated within the town of Penicuik, Mid Lothian, off the A701 trunk road. The horseshoe-shaped site surrounds the grounds of Beeslack Community High School and Aaron House, a residential care home. Much of the woodland lies on the valley sides of the River North Esk, which forms the eastern boundary of the site, and of its tributary, the Loan Burn, which runs through the southern arm of the wood.
The geology of the area commonly comprises fluvioglacial sands and gravels, although underlying sedimentary rock is visible as terraced formations along the bed of Loan Burn, which enters the River North Esk at the east of the site. The parent material gives rise predominantly to fertile brown forest soils, which are generally free draining, with damper areas on lower slopes and wet flushes along the burnside and next to the river. Soil depth tends to be shallower on the slopes and some of the steeper north-facing slopes long the Loan Burn are prone to slumping when saturated.
Most of the site lies on valley slopes of northerly, southerly or easterly aspect, with flatter ground only to the north. The north east boundary with the River North Esk is inaccessibly steep, with slopes exceeding 40 degrees.
The MLURI climate map of Scotland classifies the area as fairly warm, moist lowland subject to moderate exposure and moderate winters.
Beeslack is a former estate woodland consisting predominantly of mature broadleaved trees with occasional conifers scattered throughout. Part of the woodland is recorded as Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW) and appeared on maps of around 1860, the remainder as long established of semi-natural origin, i.e. woodland was not mapped on the site in 1860 but vegetation suggests that there may be a long history of woodland cover. Most of the current tree cover was planted in the mid to late 1800’s and is dominated by oak, together with beech, ash and sycamore. Secondary species include Scots and Corsican pine, yew, wych elm, Norway spruce, willow, alder and downy birch. A number of notably large 'veteran' beeches within the wood may pre-date this planting. Ash and sycamore are regenerating across much of the site and successfully colonising the numerous gaps left by dead and fallen elms, particularly next to the burn. Oak regeneration is rare, although there are some younger trees from restocking carried out in the mid 80's.
The under storey consists mainly of regenerating ash, sycamore, beech and wych elm, with elm understory emerging from older stems infected by Dutch elm disease. Regeneration is generally frequent and quite vigorous with the exception of the northern strip of woodland, which appears to have had a more recent history of stock grazing. Rhododendron occurs as discrete clumps, mainly in the area bordering Aaron House.
The ground flora varies and indicates several NVC woodland classes while there are several wet flushes south of Loan burn covered with dense stands of butter burr. Part of the site appears to be generally characteristic of moist herb-rich ash/elm/sycamore woodland types (NVC W9) with large swathes of wild garlic, dog's mercury and opposite leaved golden saxifrage. The drier areas, particularly to the south of the burn are more typical of grassy oak/birch woodland (NVC Type W10e) with a rich mosaic of grasses, buckler ferns, wood sorrel, wood anemone, pignut, violets, moschatel, sanicle, and other more common woodland flora.
Due to the close proximity of the Ladywood estate and other housing there are a great deal of garden escapes and other flora that has been introduced into the woodland. This is having a detrimental effect on the native flora that has been replaced in some areas and continues to lose ground to this invaders. Inparticular pick-a-back (Tolmiea menziesii) and few-flowered leek (Allium paradoxum) appear to have the most potential to replace native flora, but leopard's-bane (Dornicum pardalianches) and varigated yellow archangel (lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp argentatum) are also highly invasive and well established in some areas. Other Garden plants are regurlarly introduced by planting or being thrown over the fence.
The dominance of beech in some areas contributes to sparse ground flora in those areas and much of the woodland is of plantation origin. However, around 60% of the tree cover consists of native species, compatible with the natural woodland types. Under storey structure is developing as gaps in the canopy break up the existing high forest structure. Grey squirrels are abundant throughout the wood and roe deer occasionally present. Pipistrelle bats are present along Loan Burn, but roost sites are not known. Otters are present in the River North Esk and probably use the Loan burn also. Grey wagtails, dippers and heron also feed along the burn. Great spotted woodpeckers and other hole nesting birds use the overmature and standing deadwood present in the woodland.
Beeslack Wood (The southern section is locally known as Ladywood), was gifted to The Woodland Trust in July 1995 by Lothian Regional Council. Little detailed information is currently available about the history of the site, although before the council took ownership, it was part of a larger farming estate. Whilst some of the site appears to have had continuous woodland cover for a long period of time, it is likely that more accessible slopes have had a history of periodic clearance for grazing. Much of the wood formed part of the grounds of Beeslack (Aaron) house and most of the present tree cover dates from plantings in the mid to late 19th century, associated with the house. Some small scale replanting was undertaken in the mid 80's and pedestrian access to the wood was improved by the construction of a new footbridge across the burn in 1997. In 1999/00 improvements included drainage and surfacing works of poor sections of path and step construction up valley sides from the footbridge. The main school run path linking the school and Ladywood estate was upgraded to a hardcore surface in 2008. The wood suffered from damage to a number of older trees in the wood in storms of 1998/99 and again in 2001.
Situated within Penicuik and bordered to the south by a housing estate and north by the secondary school, the wood is easily accessible and well used by a large number of people locally. It has direct links to the Penicuik to Auchendinny footpath which runs along the disused railway to the east of the wood. The western boundary also has access from the A701.
The wood is well served by a network of 3.5km mainly un-surfaced footpaths with steps located at several key points. The Loan is crossed by a bridge at the western end of the site and connects to the Railway Walk at the eastern end of the site. Whilst there are no notable viewpoints within the wood, the site provides excellent opportunities for quiet recreation, especially in the more secluded northern section.
Exclusion of motor-cycles from the wood will continue to be a priority. The wood also suffers abuse in the form of littering and some vandalism to structures including fences, bridges and signs, especially at the western end along the path route between Ladywood Estate and Beeslack High School. Casual dumping along the Ladywood housing estate edge and accumulation of dumped material along the Loan Burn is also a problem.
Management access by vehicle is limited to the track running along the Loan Burn, accessed from the railway walkway, which is owned by Midlothian Council. This track is prone to erosion when the burn floods and in 1999 work was undertaken along the burn channel to protect the main track. The northern end of the wood can generally only be accessed by following the woodland path behind Aaron House.More about this wood ...